Me 262 Project
In early May 2009, I had the privilege to visit the Me 262 Project just north of Seattle, in Everett, WA. I had been following the progress of this interesting group through the newsletters of the Spirit of Flight Center near Denver CO. In fact, one recent newsletter highlighted the recent roll-out of Me 262A-1c Yellow 5 and I just had to go see this for myself.
There are a number of articles in the various aviation journals about the Me 262 Project and rather than repeat a lot of good work, I’ll list a few of the better ones at the end of the article. The ‘Readers Digest Abridged’ version of this story is simple: some aviation entrepreneurs in Texas came together in the early 1990s to build new-production Me 262s based upon an airframe that was one of several captured and brought over to the United States for evaluation. This particular airframe, nicknamed ‘Vera’ was to be restored to like-new condition in exchange for using the aircraft as the basis for the new-construction Me 262s. The company was called Classic Fighter Industries, Inc. (CFII) and in 1993, the Stormbird Project was officially launched.
The concept was simple and achievable – build five flying aircraft using the same techniques and materials employed by Messerschmitt, with only a few modern concessions for safety, but more on that later. The project ran into problems and CFII became bogged down in lawsuits. In 1998, the project and its assets were moved up to Everett and the Me 262 Project picked up where CFII left off.
Nearly 10 years after the start of the Stormbird Project, Flight Article number 1 (FA1) took to the air in 1992. This YouTube video captures the first flights of FA1 and FA2. FA1 is a two-seat Me 262B-1c and FA2 is the single-seat Me 262A-1c. The Messerschmitt Foundation of Munich Germany (who purchased FA2) allocated the c-suffix to these new-build aircraft. The staff of the Me 262 Project is naturally quite proud of their achievements. These flight articles are built as closely to the original specifications and techniques as possible. One of the first considerations however was the engine.
The Jumo 004 turbojet engine would operate around 10 hours before failure, often times less, while producing a modest 2,000 pounds of thrust. A more reliable and far easier engine to acquire and maintain is the General Electric J85. This engine has been around for many years in military aircraft and is also available as a commercial engine as the CJ610. In its non-afterburning configuration, the J85 produces around 2,500 pounds of thrust. While the J85 sounds like a comparatively simple choice to replace the Jumo, it also posed a significant problem.
Each Jumo 004 weighs over 1,500 pounds and is mounted ahead of the airframe’s center of gravity. The J85 weighs around 400 pounds, and if it was mounted in the same position on the wing, the aircraft would be around 2,200 pounds lighter but that would shift the center of gravity too far aft (too tail heavy) for safe flight. After some innovative engineering, the solution was brilliantly simple – use the engine casting for the Jumo 004, but alter the interior of the casting to accommodate the J85. In short, the J85 was mounted inside the shell of the Jumo engine and thus the weight and balance problems went away and the new engines would not alter the profile of the engine nacelles.
Not everything went so smoothly. While many of the components of the aircraft were reverse-engineered and custom-built, a few glitches naturally crept into the works. After the successful first flight of FA1 (Me 262B-1c), the second test flight was also the first attempt to raise and lower the landing gear. While the landing gear cycled perfectly while the aircraft was in the hangar on the jacks, in flight was a different story. After several unsuccessful attempts to get the gear back down, the test pilot used the emergency blow-down system to get the gear down and locked, or so they hoped. Unfortunately the port main landing gear collapsed on landing and laid up the aircraft for over a year to repair the wing and to re-engineer the landing gear actuator that had failed.
Fortunately, the mishap with FA1 was overcome; the aircraft flew again in 2004 and was delivered to its new owner. FA2 (Me 262A-1c) flew for the first time a year later and after completing its test flights, was flown over to Germany in a chartered An-124. The aircraft has since been a big hit on the European airshow circuit. Check out this Google Video of FA2 in action. There are some interesting differences between FA1 and FA2 besides the obvious number of seats.
FA1 is a flying reproduction built as close to the original Me 262 design as possible. As a result, it weighs in at over 14,000 pounds. FA2 had to be redesigned (no armor plate, etc.) to keep the aircraft under the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) standards weight threshold of 12,500 pounds. Like the Federal Aviation Administration, the ICAO has a weight threshold of 12,500 pounds – aircraft below this weight have simpler regulations for aircraft and pilot certification. In addition, ICAO regulations preclude the use of military surplus engines without logbooks, so the J85s used in FA1 were replaced with CJ610s in FA2.
You’ll also note that FA2 is nearly devoid of any markings. Not only are swastikas illegal in Germany (and other parts of Europe), but even the Reichs Defense Bands were kept off the aircraft to avoid problems.
After FA1 was delivered to its owner, the aircraft was stored in a hangar as it was stuck in limbo between the additional avionics that its owner wanted and the certification process that such modifications would have required. The good news is that the Collings Foundation has taken over operations of the FA1 and are even offering flights (with an appropriate donation) and we may see FA1 at selected airshows in the future.
In the meantime, the Me 262 Project team recently completed Yellow 5, which replicates the colors of the aircraft from 3./JG 7 as flown by Anton Schlopper. This is a non-flying reproduction intended to be a museum display, and while Yellow 5 is built to the same standards as its flying counterparts, it lacks the engines to fly. If you look at the photo walk around of this aircraft, you’ll note that the staff has added a feature not available on any other Me 262s on display anywhere – rockets. Prior to this example, only the Smithsonian Institution’s Me 262 retained its wooden 12-shot rocket launchers. This reproduction not only has the launchers, but also 24 inert replica R4M rockets as well.
In the other hangar, FA3 is under construction and is reportedly one of the airframes designed to be convertible between a single-seat Me 262A-1c and a two-seat Me 262B-1c. Like Yellow 5, FA3 is looking for a customer and the current economic situation hasn’t helped, but work progresses and we’ll look forward to seeing FA3 in its first flight in the future.